I’ve just had the website redone. It is amazing. Potential customers, it appears, can access it more efficiently than the old one.
This is exactly what I asked for, and furthermore exactly what the designers said they would do.
Has anybody come across this concept before? I think it’s revolutionary. Consider, for example, you call up to order some paper for your photocopier. The livewire at the other end of the phone asks you what you want. You explain. They send it to you and when it arrives it is, in fact, the paper you wanted. Better still; the accompanying invoice is actually for the amount you expected. I see a vision for the future.
Anyway, in case you can’t tell, for the past six weeks I’ve been feeling (and being) let down by a series of small errors and inadequacies. Occasionally a problem presents itself to you in the form of a spade across your forehead. You can duck or you can fight back. It’s the little niggly things that wind me up.
The solution, of course, involves never letting anything get to this stage. Ensure people do what they said, and ensure they were aware that what they said entails a little responsibility for completion of a task. I think because I tend to give people some leeway in their behaviour, I find myself in this situation too often.
Regular readers will know that Ross Campbell is the general manager of Bristol-based gym The Exercise Club
Sitting down for the first time to outline online objectives for your new business can be particularly daunting. Typically, you’re entering a sector where competition already exists and you may look upon competitors as tremendous obstacles in reaching your own business targets.
Perfectly true, but you have to remember with ‘search marketing strategy’, every online business, big or small, started with a blank canvas, not necessarily a structured plan with objectives.
I was involved with my first online business in 1997. The ability to reach certain search ranking targets was far simpler then – the market was much less saturated. Conversely, the opportunity to track, analyse and develop a search engine marketing strategy gives the 2010 start-up the necessary ammunition to build their SEO (search engine optimisation) arsenal.
As you begin to prepare your online marketing objectives, keep the following five tips in mind, to ensure your time and energies are optimised just as much as your search strategy:
1 Brainstorm and produce a list of 20-25 key 'phrases' that make up your SEO ‘dream ticket’. Do they look like realistic targets within your first year? You probably don't know. If they're single words, I’d suggest they aren't achievable within your first year of trading. My advice would be to add to each of these words or phrases another demographic term, for example, “Widgets" should become “Widgets Hertfordshire” or "Hire Widgets". Setting your SEO expectations too high, too early, can take away from what should actually be seen as tremendous ranking results for any start-up.
2 Track everything and leave no stone unturned. There are a range of tools available, mostly free, which allow you to see exactly what is happening on your website – how people find you, which pages they visit and the all-important terms they type into Google to find your website.
This information can produce the building blocks for a highly optimised search campaign and throw up new and innovative ideas to capture additional levels of traffic. Put the necessary packages in place from day one and review accordingly.
3 Understand - but don't become an expert. Starting a business and having access to reams of data can be tremendously offputting. I had a tendency to look at data on a daily basis, overanalysing each search ranking movement and trying to understand why certain keywords performed in certain ways.
My advice in hindsight? Research your key data on a monthly basis – especially if you’re starting up from home on a budget. As a new website, it will take time for your search positioning to bed in. Seeing rapid movements up and down the ranking can strike fear into most, but it needn't. Concentrate on your core business efforts and compile your analytics data for monthly review
4 Context is king. Your site content will make or break your online business. Poorly drafted content not only detracts from the usability of your site, it provides Google with little opportunity to grant your site authority. Write your content with the end user in mind.
Keep it simple, know when to produce both internal and external links and always field the opportunity to allow your site visitors to communicate. Don't let them wander your site trying to find your contact page or telephone number. Keep everything within context and your site will quickly develop it's own SEO pattern
5 Don't take your eye off of your initial business goal. The web is constantly evolving. New opportunities present themselves each and every day. Try your best not to deviate away from your initial online business objectives. If you receive a call from business X promising to send an email to 100,000 recipients for £x – be wary. Is your business in a position to capitalise on this opportunity? Does this opportunity make good business sense? Does this opportunity seem to good to be true?
All start-ups must consider how they pinpoint the ‘relevancy’ between what their business offers and what there website does. Follow the R-E-L-E-V-A-N-T marketing approach and soon you will find your online activities gathering pace.
Relate to your site visitors needs
Spend time understanding how users find your site, what they do when they’re there and how they exit. Building a picture of your typical user will allow you to quickly identify their needs, what information they're looking to acquire and how you may persuade them to interact with you and your business. Knowing the pitfalls encountered on your website enables you to react and adapt to maximise your online ROI.
Engage your visitors
Don’t be afraid to ask. Use your website as a communication tool – not simply as a corporate brochure. Giving your customers what they want – relevant and topical information – will build confidence in your offering. Think of it as a conversational piece: the first question they ask is through their initial Google search, so make sure your page(s) respond to that question.
Learn from your visitors
Know how visitors interact on your website and communicate with them directly. Make sure this critical information is leveraged in your business' best interests. Communicate internally. As an example, if the same question is being asked repeatedly online, see how this can be adapted to your own offline sales techniques. Understanding what your customers' current requirements are from their search requests can have massive impact upon your business.
Excite your visitors
Once you give the end user what they’re looking for, whether product or service offering, catch them there and then. Don’t be afraid to offer them further free information in return for their email address, which will allow you to communicate directly. They're sat there thinking – “GREAT! Finally found what I was looking for” – but we know that potentially a competitor’s website is just a click away. Retain your visitors’ interest by giving them what they want and by offering a little bit more.
Value your visitors’ time
First and foremost – give your customers what they’re looking for. Structure your website so they can find exactly what they’re looking for. Not only does a well constructed website get a general thumbs up from the end user, it's also a great search engine optimisation tool.
Anticipate your visitors’ needs
By using specific trigger terms within search (eg "buy", "shop for", "info" or "help") you can quickly understand your visitors’ needs and wants. If you're a retailer, structure your website to offer both an easy route for product information and an even easier route to buy that product. Certain high value products may require a customer to go away and think about the potential transaction. Anticipate this by offering a link to your site RSS feed, a telephone number or a simple email enquiry.
Nurture your visitors' trust
If the information you provide upon first glance ticks visitors' “Yes, this is what I'm looking for” box, then capture their attention and nurture the relationship. Remember, whatever your industry, the visitor may or may not know of your business and it offering. If your offline sales process is complex, don't simply throw your visitors into a website with "BUY NOW" buttons flashing and scripted content that can be found on any of your competitors’ pages.
Test your message
Sceptical about which approach works best with which visitor? Use free offerings such as Google Website Optimiser, which allows you to offer different pages to individual visitors. This A/B approach allows you to quickly identify which messaging works best and provides you with the necessary focus for future marketing activity.